A 'counter-majoritarian' mindset existed in the US long before Trump and the Jan. 6 riot: professor

A 'counter-majoritarian' mindset existed in the US long before Trump and the Jan. 6 riot: professor

With the one-year anniversary of the January 6, 2021 insurrection upon us, many critics of former President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement — from liberals and progressives to Never Trump conservatives — are warning that the modern Republican Party has taken a dangerously authoritarian turn and is determined to eliminate liberal democracy in the United States. Corey Robin, a political science professor at Brooklyn College in New York City, doesn’t disagree that “Trump and his thugs” are anti-democracy. But in an op-ed/think piece published by Politico on January 5, Robin stresses that a “counter-majoritarian” mindset in the United States didn’t start with the MAGA movement and existed long before the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building.

“Driving the initiatives of the Republicans and the inertia of the Democrats are two forces,” Robin argues. “The first is the right’s project, decades in the making, to legally limit the scope and reach of democracy. The second is the Constitution, which makes it difficult for the national majority to act and easy for local minorities to rule. What happened on January 6 is far less significant than what happened before January 6 — and what has and has not happened since then.”

Delving into U.S. history, Robin notes some examples of anti-democracy moves that came from the right.

“Equal representation of the citizenry hasn’t become the enemy of the contemporary Republican Party; it has been the enemy for more than a half-century,” Robin writes. “Ronald Reagan opposed the 1965 Voting Rights Act from the beginning, explaining later that he believed it was ‘humiliating to the South.’”

During the 19th Century, Robin writes, “The will of the slaveholding minority was repeatedly enacted in the Senate…. In the first half of the 20th Century, the majoritarian House passed multiple civil rights measures — from anti-lynching bills to abolition of the poll tax. Each time, those bills were killed in the Senate.”

In 2022, Robin observes, voting rights bills crafted by Democrats in Congress find themselves facing “counter-majoritarian” obstacles — not unlike all of the “counter-majoritarian” obstacles of the 19th Century and 20th Century.

“Should the (voting rights) bill get enacted into law,” Robin warns, “it will have to face the Constitution’s final counter-majoritarian test, on the Supreme Court, where it could easily be struck down by five or six of the Court’s conservative justices. All those justices were put on the Court in accordance with constitutional procedures — which is perfectly consistent with the fact that three of those justices were appointed by a president elected with fewer votes than his opponent and five…. of those justices were approved by a group of senators representing fewer voters than the senators who voted against their confirmation.”

Robin adds, “If there is any solace to be gained from this sorry story, it is that it is a typical American story. We are not facing the importation or imposition of a new mode of rule. We need no labored analogies or showy theories to make sense of it. We are in the same constitutional steeplechase that generations past have had to hurdle across or hurl themselves through. Whether we are at the start, middle, or end of that course is now, as always, an open question.”

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